A Tiny Gardening Terrarium

Posted August 25th, 2016 by Nicole Mihalos and filed in Dea Digs, Gardening, Uncategorized
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T here is a fascination today with creating things in miniature. Micro houses, micro cars, micro technology. Even dog breeds can fit in a ‘teacup’. This is also true in the world of growing plants under glass. Glass containers have sprouted like loveable weeds in any store that has a reason to carry them. From three-inch glass bromeliad balls, to elaborate greenhouses made small, you can find a suitable repository for your favorite little plant. And why not have a micro-environment within the larger space of your Tanglewood conservatory!
A Bit of History
In 1842, Doctor Nathanial Bagshaw Ward, who had a keen interest in botany and entomology, discovered  that some plants and animals could be happily grown inside glass containers (the sphinx moth that he’d been observing, when he noticed a fern spore had germinated in the same vessel, was not credited). Ward went on to develop varying versions of the Wardian case—which we call terrariums today.
About Terrariums
A terrariums defining feature is that moisture can be kept relatively constant, which is a bonus for more persnickety specimens. For instance, if you have low humidity in your conservatory, a terrarium is the way to go if you just have to have a few specimens needing moist air. From desert plants, to aquatics, you can create an environment within glass that will thrive for ages.
There is a wonderful word for this that mashes Greek and German: Microlandschaft. It’s quite popular today to create little landscapes—complete with miniature people, animals and things. My current favorite terrarium plant is a tiny, tussock-like philodendron variety called ‘Pincushion’. It is possibly the most perfect plant I’ve ever worked with, as it continuously looks fantastic and grows at a slow to moderate rate that stays in perfect proportion to the two-gallon covered glass urn it has called home for two years.
Other great plants are bromeliads (aka air plants), small cacti, cryptanthus (aka Earth Stars), various begonias and gesnariads, small ferns, mosses, a few orchids, and many more. One can even have an aquatic version with the oh-so- easy to grow Hygrophila difformis (aka Water Wisteria). I have one with a betta fish in a one-gallon urn with no filtration—both fish and plant are thriving with the occasional partial water change. Other variations on the terrarium theme are the paludarium (terrestrial and aquatic combined), vivarium (plants and animals combined) and aquarium.
Beauty in Small Places
What makes terrarium gardening so wonderful is that it is possible for anyone, weather you live in a tiny bedsit or a massive mansion. Occasional misting can be all that is required for long periods depending on what you grow. There are numerous books and online sources dedicated to terrariums, and no matter your tastes—from modern minimalism to exquisite Victorian finery, you can find the ‘Wardian’ case to fit. Your creativity is all that’s needed to add that microlandshaft that will become a fascinating conversation piece.
Enjoy! Share a picture of your new terrarium with us at marketing@tanglewoodconservatories.com!
By Dea Schofield

Take a Journey to a Historic Botanical Gem

Posted June 29th, 2016 by Nicole Mihalos and filed in Dea Digs, Gardening, Greenhouses, Travels
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Around this verdant globe, you will find numerous botanical gardens.

Many will have UNIQUE QUALITIES, and some will seem MAGNIFICENT or much like another in their creative and artful displays. But there is one that stands apart—a humble, but studious little gem nestled in the heart of the ANCIENT CITY OF PADUA, twenty-five miles to the west of Venice. So special is this botanical wonder, that it was named a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1997. It holds interest for the plant-lover, the historian, the medically curious, the architecturally or philosophically inclined, and the environmentally conscious.

The Orto botanico di Padova, or Botanical gardens of Padua, began life in 1545, making it the OLDEST CONTINUOUS BOTANICAL GARDENS in the world. Originally, it was created for the study of medicinal plants and has watched the science of botany blossom from that singular occupation to include all study of plants. The garden’s original design still gives it it’s unique look—encompassing a little sacred, symbolic geometry, which soon had to be ringed with a wall in 1552 to protect from early ‘drug’ thieves.


Through the centuries, there have been changes and phases. Various greenhouses have come and gone, but one will find small, utilitarian antique and vintage examples. There is an orchid hothouse amongst other older buildings.

But the garden has survived so long because it has also moved with times and knowledge, becoming not only a home of RESEARCH, but of SPECIES PRESERVATION. A large greenhouse using state-of-the-art green technology, mixed with old fashioned ingenuity, sits in modernist contrast to the early architecture. It makes for a fascinating journey from ancient to futuristic.

The UNESCO World Heritage Convention states,

For more than five centuries, the Botanical Garden of Padua has represented an exceptional testimony of scientific and cultural significance. Its position, size and main characteristics, as well as its main research and didactic features, have remained essentially unchanged over centuries with a constant adaptation to the most advanced discoveries in botanical and educational sciences.”


When visiting the old part of the gardens, one must imagine the likes of Padua University alumni like Nicolaus Copernicus and Galileo Galilei walking the cardinally-aligned paths on their way to lectures. Perhaps another alumnus, Giacomo Casanova stole a medicinal rose blossom (Rosa centifolia or gallica) to entice a feminine conquest. And the ‘Goethe Palm’, a dwarf fan palm (Chamaerops humilis) planted in 1585, (and beloved by its namesake) which has its own personally-constructed greenhouse, stands as a testament to mankind’s potential, and particularly, our very special and necessary relationship with plants. This is a garden to be viewed & appreciated with attention to its deep history and contributions to human knowledge.

Buon Viaggio!

By Dea Schofield

Fruit of our labor!

Posted May 4th, 2016 by Nicole Mihalos and filed in Dea Digs, Gardening, Greenhouses
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Of the many purposes to which a greenhouse is put, perhaps growing edibles is the most satisfying, and certainly the most sensible—just ask many Englishmen, who tend their greenhouse-grown tomatoes with pride and loving care, whether the greenhouse is attached to a small cottage or a stately home.

Growing edibles under glass also requires a keen eye and some knowledge! But there are ideal prospects that even the most advanced greenhouse farmer will grow (albeit, perhaps heirloom varieties). Regardless of which delectables you choose, a few basic considerations must be applied. These involve: light, air circulation, temperature, and humidity. Proper control of these (and of course water and phosphorus-rich fertilizer) will ensure a healthy crop with no need for pesticides.


Sun. Sun. Sun.

The majority of plants grown for food need full sun. This means that if you’re growing off-season, you’ll have several months out of the year that you’ll need to mimic the sun—best done through strong artificial light with the fullest spectrum possible. There are multiple options out there these days for lighting type and you can learn all about ‘footcandle’ (unit of light measurement) requirements for each type of plant.

Air circulation is critical in most conditions, but especially for plants with tasty parts that insects find so appealing, and not to mention helping control fungal and bacterial infection. Keeping the breeze consistent, yet moving, make aphids, mealy bugs, and spider mites uncomfortable (I mentioned that they like edibles as much as we—but they tend to go more for the plant itself). Both ventilation and fans are needed. A little note here about ‘design’ for growth: for any vines, like indeterminate (continuous growth) tomatoes, legumes (beans, peas), and cucurbits (cucumbers, squash, melons), be sure to create a trellis (can even hang from the ceiling) or growing frame of some kind, which will keep them tidy, maximize space, as well as make for easy ventilation.

Temperature Control

Though some herbs can be grown relatively well in temperatures below 70°, the vast majority of greenhouse grown edibles are subtropical or tropical and require higher temperatures once fruit has set. Beans, peppers, and tomatoes need temps consistently at least around 70° to initially set flower and pollinate (which you may assist with an artist’s paintbrush). Cucumbers and other cucurbits like temperatures at least five degrees warmer to set flower, so you can easily up your heating to between 75° and 80° to keep everyone happy. Your tropical plants will love it, and any citrus will surely thank you by producing more happily. If you choose to sow seed, remember that even warmer temps, 80° or more, are necessary for germination. Heat mats under your seed trays take care of that handily. Plants like bananas, papaya, or guava will expect you to provide a toasty environment year round in order to offer you their fruits.


Proper humidity is essential to the comfort of most plants. Some will prefer less and some will prefer more, but you’ll likely want a minimum of 60%. There are multiple ways to provide it more locally too. If you’re a homebody who loves to potter in your greenhouse, a nice morning watering, followed by a midafternoon misting will do wonders (just be sure not to give your plants a sunburn—as water on leaves can act as a magnifier in full sun). High-tech misters, or even a lovely bubbling water feature, will add ambient moisture. Again, insects don’t care for happy, relatively moist leaves. Proper, consistent water, whether in soil or air, is the single greatest control to keeping your plants happy. In fact, if you should get any of the aforementioned creatures, as you probably might from time to time, simply spraying them away with water is just as effective, and less toxic, than using pesticides.

I have mentioned some of the best options, but this is really just a start. Herbs, citrus, beans, bananas, cucumbers, mini pumpkins, guava, papaya, cinnamon and even strawberries for the winter months are just a few of the lovely possibilities which have cultivars made specifically for greenhouse growing. So happy growing!

Happy eating!

By Dea Schofield

Zen and the art of Bonsai in Your Conservatory

Posted March 25th, 2016 by Nicole Mihalos and filed in Dea Digs, Gardening, Uncategorized
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It is an old axiom that Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Not everyone sees the appeal of a Kandinsky, Mapplethorpe, or even Van Gogh. But when it comes to Nature’s artworks, a giant Sequoia for instance, no one denies the awe they instill—or the sense of humility and impermanence. And it’s not necessarily scale that elicits a long, wondering gaze—but form, color, scent and time.


How many of us, fraught with stresses of the modern world, seek or find solace in nature? Many of us cannot easily get there, others haven’t the luxury of time, and still others haven’t the actual ability. So we in the west have begun to rapidly embrace an ancient Eastern concept that helps us cope—mindfulness and meditation. How does all this relate to horticulture? In a word: Bonsai.

So back to that giant Sequoia–only let’s make it miniature, so that we might bring it home and even meditate with/on it. If you were to consider the time, effort and care that goes into a proper creation of a redwood bonsai, your awe would perhaps not equal seeing the real thing in the forest, but your appreciation would certainly raise. There is more than horticultural skill required. The properties of Zen art are what truly make a bonsai a bonsai. It is art using the medium of nature via the action of horticulture—and if one approaches it with from the Zen philosophy—well then you can be one with the Giant Sequoia.

Japanese beech

Here are those Zen qualities:

  1. Asymmetry. For a Buddhist, a perfect form is impossible. So it shouldn’t be striven for in the first place. Everything is somewhat irregular, not balanced, informal. This should be reflected in the work of art.
  2. Simplicity, plainness, avoidance of complexity. A bonsai should not contain more than necessary.
  3. Austere sublimity. Zen art is not youthful, sensual or opulent. It fits better with advanced age and shows a certain rigor and austerity. Removing all external splendor is supposed to lead into the heart of the message. The weathered branches of an old pine, lanky and emaciated by storm and snow, show this sublimity.
  4. Naturalness. This is a concept that needs interpretation. What is meant is not a pine which might occur as well in nature, but a pine that shows the essence of a pine, the prototypical pine. It should not look artificial or even artistic, but effortless and informal, as if it always had been that way and could not be different, as if it hadn’t been styled by man.
  5. Subtle profoundness. The work of art should express more than the shown subject. The pine is not only a pine. It can symbolize dignity, perseverance, the season of winter, closeness to death or virility. It is desirable to have a richness of implications, associations, deepness of thought, innuendos that leave room for interpretation, that also have some vagueness. The tree should not be easy to see through. Its essence might be hidden first and only reveal itself step by step.
  6. Freedom from attachments to mundane things, to habits, conventions, customs, or rules. Zen does not accept constraints of thinking or acting. The transgression of conventional ways of thinking is an essential feature of Zen. A pine that obviously has been designed according to the classical rules of a formal upright tree doesn’t satisfy the requirements of the Zen aesthetic. This doesn’t mean that the rules wouldn’t have any value though. They might be useful for a beginner. But if it enhances the Zen character of a bonsai, the rules should be broken. Rules should enable, not restrict.
  7. Tranquility, loneliness, peace of mind. This is the feeling that a tree should convey. Zen art is directed inwards. Everything that disrupts this peace needs to be eliminated.

(from: Hoseki Shin’ichi Hisamatsu (in Zen and the Fine Arts, translation by Gishin Tokiwa, Tokyo 1971)


The act of creating and tending a bonsai is one of meditation and mindfulness. We can lose ourselves in creating this tiny version of a piece of the cosmos, while at the very same time, endeavor to find our true ourselves. It is even said that creating bonsai is like contemplating a Zen riddle, or Koan.

Consider the remarkable specimen at The National Bonsai and Penjing Museum (National Arboretum) of a Japanese White Pine that began life as a bonsai in 1626. Yes, 1626! How many generations would have carefully and mindfully tended that tree before being gifted to the United States by the Bonsai Master, Masaru Yamaki—a Hiroshima survivor? The tree was a Hiroshima survivor as well.


There are innumerable books, classes, and even Youtube videos that attempt to teach the art of bonsai. But time is what really teaches us how our nature is at its best when working with nature. And what better piece of nature could your Tanglewood conservatory serve to house than your own carefully crafted bonsai?

Difficult Challenges and Great Rewards!

Posted February 25th, 2016 by Nicole Mihalos and filed in Client Stories, Dea Digs, Gardening, Greenhouses
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Clients come with needs and wishes in all shapes and sizes. And sometimes the most challenging are the most rewarding.

In 2010 I was introduced to an exclusive collector client by a landscape architect I met while displaying at the Washington Home and Garden Show. The client was having a unique conservatory built by none other than wonderful Tanglewood Conservatories. But no one involved, even the architect’s firm’s landscape maintenance division, had experience with caring for plants under glass. They knew they needed an uncommon expert. I was that expert for five years.

Bullock_Final Exterior CopyrightClick here to read more about this greenhouse!

At the start, I didn’t know I’d have to call on all my experience, knowledge, creativity, and the occasional miracle to make things happen for this client. Tanglewood worked their magic in creating a beautiful structure. The landscape architect then subcontracted the rest out before I was brought in. Rather than the usual benches, tables, and pots, there were stone beds built (similar to institutional greenhouses) that I would then design and fill.

After consulting with the client, the challenge was to keep plants from multiple climates in a very limited space. I designed an interior landscape I was sure he and his family would enjoy, with lots of unusual and flowering tropicals as well as some which produced fruit. I was asked to incorporate a good-sized lemon tree he’d had which was dying from nematodes. But after some specialized intervention, the tree rebounded and did very well. There was a succulent/cactus bed, an orchid bed, a large tree fern, bananas, angel’s trumpets, and many other wonders. A rock wall was planted with epiphytes and appropriate climbers. A lovely café table and chairs was added in order to enjoy the beautiful space.

The first two challenges to the health of the plants was the heating, which was built into the floor (sort of a modern version of Roman-style), and the automated watering system (which was an outdoor landscaping system tailored to fit the beds). Both were great in theory, but unfortunately terrible in practice. I strongly recommend against such heating systems for built-in beds and also against automated watering for greenhouses housing multiple climate species. While I couldn’t do much about the heating, at least the watering could be done by hand and the automated system shut down. A Horticulturist must combine botany, biology, chemistry, geology, meteorology—well, I hope I’m making the point that it’s an interdisciplinary thing usually resting heavily on experience. It’s one area where you can’t your fake your way—which leads to an important note about contained systems like greenhouses. They just can’t be fully automated if you’re planning on growing several different species. Unfortunately, in a complex, eclectic collection, each plant needs weekly and even daily care. It was clear the collection needed a caretaker and I was asked to come twice a week.

After the first year I learned not to get too attached to the plants, as I was used to in my own greenhouse or that of other clients. This client was ever keen to replace and try new things. We collaborated on various changes many times during my tenure. The bed which originally housed the angel’s trumpets, eventually became the home of various hot pepper cultivars. More edible plants were added, including an avocado which happily bloomed, but because a ‘mate’ had not been provided, there were no avocados. However, there were plenty of lemons, limes, and tangerines.

There were ever-blooming hibiscus, many re-blooming orchids, herbs, and myriad other plants. The bromeliads and miniature vines in the stone wall eventually took it over. I refused to use pesticides as not only were small children frequent visitors, but also because of the animals.  Thank goodness for herpetological skills, because caught reptiles and amphibians were regularly deposited into this burgeoning ecosystem by the client’s children. (I aided in the escape of many natives, like skinks, toads, Eastern Box Tortoises, and frogs). My ‘green’ sensibilities found natural ways to keep pests under control, which included using lady beetles, praying mantises, spiders, and tiny predatory wasps. It worked very well.

Wonderful triumphs, most unknown to the client, came of solving the challenging problems presented by such an eclectic collection. I kept a watchful, preventative eye, which told me when to do things like specialized pruning, root drenches, or move lady beetles from plant to plant in order to target aphids. When the time came for me to leave the tricky care of that unique conservatory to others, I knew how much I would miss it—despite the sometimes stressful challenges.

The ending of that wonderful experience offered an unexpected gift, thanks to that beautiful, solid structure that housed and protected so much life—the chance to connect with Nancy, Alan, and the Tanglewood artisans. Like me, they appreciate the unique, remarkable, and well-crafted, especially when it comes to conservatories and the treasures they might contain.

By Dea Schofield

To view the details about the Greenhouse, CLICK HERE!

Is it even possible to pick a favorite Conservatory?

Posted January 6th, 2016 by Nicole Mihalos and filed in Dea Digs, Uncategorized
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Do you love conservatories as much as Dea Schofield? 

As well as an expert HORTICULTURALIST, Dea is a frequent Tanglewood blog contributor and a fan of CONSERVATORIES! Below, she takes you inside her love of conservatories.

Whether it’s a lowly little propagation lean-to, or a lofty, pedigreed orchid hothouse, I cannot resist the urge to explore them. And this goes back to my early teens when I received my first mini-conservatory, or terrarium, in the mid-seventies. It was really just a garish, modernist, plastic ‘Wardian’ case (invented by Dr. Nathaniel Bagshaw Ward, who had connections to Kew Gardens). It had an orange base and covering with a light and stood about four feet high. I grew a GYNURA AURANTIACA (Purple Velvet Plant) in it and remember thinking the purple and orange went well together. I also remember wanting something much bigger!

Cheekwood Gardens-Nashville

That love of keeping plants ‘UNDER-GLASS’ grew, so that in adulthood, whenever I travel, my first task is to see if my destination has any conservatories or BOTANIC GARDENS in residence. I remember visiting CHEEKWOOD GARDENS in Nashville and finding their humble, vintage, working greenhouses my favorite part of the place—despite them not really being part of the expected tour or especially architecturally gem-like.

There are so many amazing conservatories world-wide, that to choose a favorite is nearly impossible. From the old-school elegant beauty of PHIPPS or LONGWOOD GARDENS conservatories, to the modernism of MISSOURI BOTANIC GARDENS or SINGAPORE’S GARDENS BY THE BAY, one is hard-pressed to say, ‘This is my favorite’. I confess, I love them all. But there are two standouts.


As the crow flies, I live about six miles from the U.S. BOTANIC GARDENS. Not only do I find the large conservatory to be a beautiful structure, but from a symbolic standpoint, I love its proximity to the stony U.S. Capitol—as if ‘someone’ knew Mother Nature needed to remind us of who is really in charge! Standing to the west, the DELICATE GLASSHOUSE is never in the shadow of the much taller legislative building, which does ultimately oversee it’s well-being through the Architect of the Capitol. Being truly ‘THE PEOPLE’S’ CONSERVATORY, it is open 365 days a year and has no admission cost. The USBG is also the oldest continually operating botanic garden in the United States—having begun its first glimmer in the eyes of the forefathers back in the early 1800s. I highly recommend it be top of anyone’s list when they visit the nation’s capital.


 But for shear faint-factor, the PALM HOUSE at THE ROYAL BOTANIC GARDENS, KEW was the most impressive for me. Like a teeny-bopper seeing her music idol, I had to control my desire to squeal the first time I laid eyes on it! Being not only a plant lover, but a lover of history, beauty, exploration, knowledge, and conservation, Kew’s mystique does it all for me. The various conservatories there run the range from my favorites, the very VICTORIAN PALM HOUSE and larger TEMPERATE HOUSE, to the modern, PRINCESS OF WALES CONSERVATORY—with its emphasis on energy conservation. Everyone should make an effort to visit Kew. Don’t go to London without doing so!

In fact, I say make it a point to seek out the public conservatories wherever you travel, because no matter your architectural taste, there are conservatory gems around the world. They are the perfect marriage of art and science, beauty and knowledge. They remind us of the best of what humanity can create. 


Happy New Year and Happy Exploring!

By Dea Schofield

Are YOU growing your MEDICINE this winter?

Posted December 2nd, 2015 by Nicole Mihalos and filed in Dea Digs, Gardening, Greenhouses, Uncategorized
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With winter at our doorsteps…

Did you know there are plants you can grow to help with health and well-being during the holidays? How easy is to grow culinary/medicinal plants in your conservatory?

EXTREMELY! Here are four of my favorites with a special advanced exotic bonus.

ALOE VERA is a plant with a long, illustrious past. It doesn’t have the moniker of miracle cure for nothing; even the U.S. MILITARY studied and stockpiled it for RADIATION BURNS! No household should be without this AFRICAN NATIVE which once grew on an island Alexander the Great seized to keep the plant exclusively for his troops’ medicinal needs.


While it has multiple HEALING USES, the most well-known is its ability to heal burns quickly and its efficacy is astounding. If you’ve just pulled out the Christmas feast and managed to singe yourself in the process, just snip off a small length of a leaf and rub the sticky gel onto your wound. If it’s severe, multiple applications over an hour will pull the pain from any burn.

Aloe Vera_in pot

Aloe, being a succulent, is an EASY PLANT TO GROW. It is very forgiving. However, SUN, an occasional weak FEEDING, a high-quality succulent POTTING MIX, and regular WATERING (allow to go only just dry between waterings and let drain thoroughly) will keep the leaves plump and ready to serve you. If it outgrows its space, you can always divide out the ‘mother’ plant and keep however many ‘pups’ you want.

Our next MUST-HAVE was revered by the ANCIENT GREEKS and is known as LEMON BALM, or Melissa officinalis. Being another workhorse in the HERBALIST CABINET, this MEDITERRANEAN NATIVE was also beloved by notables such as WILLLIAM SHAKESPHERE and THOMAS JEFFERSON. It not only has ANTIVIRAL properties, but for centuries has been said to CHEER the mind. So in the dark days of winter, whether you’re having a little bout of SAD or feel a cold or flu coming on, just go out to the greenhouse and snip some stems off your Lemon Balm plant and MAKE TEA (allow it to steep for at least 5 minutes). Mixing Lemon Balm with kratom, which is a bit harder to grow at home, so I recommend buying it online using various kratom vendors and infusing the two into a tea! Lemon balm + kratom = the best all natural anxiety relief a woman can ask for. If you’ve never heard of kratom before then it’s a natural anxiety solution that is gaining popularity and is definitely worth looking into. There are different types so if you’re not affected by anxiety too much but can’t focus then maeng da kratom might be best for you. A simple Google search of “what is maeng da kratom” will allow you to find out more about whether it would be good to take.

Lemon Balm2

Speaking on anxiety and natural relief, CBD oil is a great solution if you’re suffering from anxiety. It is pretty hard to grow and make yourself and may not work for you, but it’s always worth giving it a go and this CBD promo code will help you find the best deals. Those who have tried such products will be the first to report of the health benefits that they have experienced using the likes of CBD oil UK to address aches and pains or any mental issues they’re dealing with .Outside, it’s a perennial in the mint family; inside, just keep WATERING and snipping to MAINTAIN SIZE AND SHAPE, giving the OCCASIONAL LIGHT FEEDING. You don’t want to let the soil get too dry, but also likes to be relatively well-drained. The LEMONY SCENT that comes from just brushing against it will put a smile on your face in the dead of winter. It’s easy to dry for tea-but there’s NOTHING LIKE the fresh thing with a little honey to chase winter ‘blahs’ away.

Virtually all kitchens contain a jar of thyme for yummy, savory flavoring; but this herb has also been a major part of medicinal history. Thymus vulgaris, containing powerfully antiseptic thymol volatile oil, is also well-known as a great expectorant and is used in COUGH and SORE THROAT medicines. Just two teaspoons of Thyme leaves steeped for 10 minutes in a cup of boiled water.

Thymus vulgaris_indoor-gardening11

Written about since ancient times, Thyme is a wild, pretty little plant and has been used for all kinds of ailments. It needs WELL-DRAINED SOIL and CONSISTENT WATERING-however, it doesn’t like to be too moist for too long. To keep it from getting ratty-looking, or from ‘walking away’ from its pot, TRIM IT REGULARLY. If everyone’s staying healthy, just dry the leaves and store them for use in your favorite French culinary dish.

Lastly, for the slightly more ADVANCED medicinal/culinary herb grower, is Illicium verum, aka STAR ANISE. This fragrant, smallish evergreen tree, originally from SOUTHEAST ASIA, bears a fruit that has REMARKABLE MEDICINAL PROPERTIES, but is also beloved as an ASIAN COOKING SPICE. Once having been classified in the Magnolia family, Illicium verum‘s pre-ripe fruit is commercially harvested for its Shikimic acid, which is the main ingredient used in the flu medicine, Tamiflu.

Illicium verum

Not only does the spice TASTE GREAT in food and LOOK GORGEOUS as decoration, but also makes a GREAT TEA! Again, the minute you’re sensing the flu or cold coming on, take a couple of your dried star anise, make a tea and sip comfortably. If space in your GREENHOUSE is limited, it’s also possible to buy bags of the whole spice at Asian grocers. Should you be enticed to grow the tree, be very sure that you’re getting the exact species Illicium verum, as there is a separate Japanese species which is toxic. Being a ZONE 8 PLANT, it should do just fine in a more NORTHERNLY GREENHOUSE, again with consistent watering and regular feeding.

Happy Holidays to all from Dea Schofield and Tanglewood!

Don’t forget to get that Aloe vera for the hectic cooks out there!

Halloween & Dia de los Muertos are a Great Time for Decorating the Conservatory

Posted October 28th, 2015 by Nicole Mihalos and filed in Dea Digs, Events, Gardening, Greenhouses
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ART and DESIGN are ways of creatively CELEBRATING LIFE—AND DEATH! As the outdoor growing season dies, humans have celebrated this time since long ago as a symbol for the passing of life and the chance to honor the spirits. All cultures have some kind of similar celebration, and the ARTISTIC EXPRESSION that comes from it is not only ASTOUNDINGLY DIVERSE, but fascinatingly attractive; albeit often macabre. Sometimes, that macabre is an integral part of the celebration. After all, HALLOWEEN was a night when those spirits walked and it was imperative to scare them away!



In the BRITISH ISLES, long before anyone there grew pumpkins (an American native), turnips and mangelwurzel (field beets) were carved into lanterns with GHOULISH FACES. These were OUTFITTED WITH A CANDLE and hung on poles to be carried, or at gates, windows, and doors. Any spirit, malevolent or not, would think twice about harassing the carver. That tradition was carried to the Americas, where ‘THE GREAT PUMPKIN’ was born. Today, even in the U.K., pumpkins, squash, or gourds make a far more cooperative and satisfying JACK’O’LANTERN.


Where’s the DECORATION?

The ease and simplicity of adding these members of the Cucurbit family, carved or not, to YOUR CONSERVATORY OR GREENHOUSE for SEASONAL DECORATION is unrivaled. There are so many species and cultivars that you’ll grow dizzy from choice. They range from the MINI to the MASSIVE, from WHITE to nearly BLACK, and from PERFECTLY GEOMETRICAL to GNARLY. Carved out, they can even be used as ‘COSTUMESFOR YOUR PLANT POTS (just add a bag if it’s a snug fit so your pot doesn’t get slimy)! A bonus of placing them just prior to Halloween is that they can remain through Thanksgiving. Perhaps removing the carved ones so as not to scare Thanksgiving guests away. REMEMBER to add the ones you don’t turn into pie to the compost pile.




Looking for FUN?

There are other plants that can create a FUN and MACABRE EFFECT. One is the BEAUTIFUL and FRIGHTENING-LOOKING Solanum quitoense, a.k.a. Naranjilla. Spineless varieties of this are grown as a fruit crop, but I’m talking about the original species with its LARGE, SERRATED, SP]INY, PURPLE-HAIRED leaves. Don’t let those spines scare you—just your guests. This is a very easy plant to grow and does well in a pot. I have grown it a number of times and if you’re mindful, it won’t bite! In fact, you MAY FALL IN LOVE WITH IT. Its relative, the PORCUPINE TOMATO, a.k.a. Solanum pyracanthum, is an option, but while it’s even scarier, it’s not quite as pretty. Another FUN FACT is that these are part of the nightshade family—which we know witches have been using for centuries to weave their spells.

There is even a perfect ‘GOTHPLANT. It’s a sage species known as Salvia discolor and has everything you could want in FASHION REBEL. It’s got the closest you’ll find to BLACK FLOWERS, which should conveniently be blooming for Halloween, and a pale, silver-green foliage. If the KIDS touch it, they’ll ‘OOH’ and ‘ICK’ because of its sticky stems. It makes a WONDERFUL GREENHOUSE PLANT and tends to bloom more or less all year if kept warm. Even its scent is bizarrely attractive.



MY FAVORITE plant for Halloween decorating is the BAT-LEAVED PASSION VINE. Passiflora coriacea (recently changed to sexocellata), especially a cultivar called Passiflora x ‘Manta’. This is a loveable, excellent greenhouse denizen that you can easily manipulate like a string of lights or garland. It gives you that PERFECT FLUTTERING BAT LOOK. You can set it up in a place of honor to impress your costumed guests, then put it back in its preferred spot when the festivities are over.



If you’re looking to create an atmosphere using DRIED PLANTS, one of the best is the SNAPDRAGON STEM LADEN with its skull-shaped seedpods. Mixing in red-hued grasses, orange Chinese lanterns and blackish Purple Majesty millet will give you a WONDERFULLY ATTRACTIVE, MYSTERIOUS VIBE that can also be left for the Thanksgiving decorations. Leaving off the lights and using candles (real or faux) on Halloween night will delight all.

Finally, ADD IN THE DARK METAL. Not necessarily the rock music kind, but iron, bronze, or copper (oxidized copper looks great). TUBS and CAULDRONS make great ‘PLANT POT COSTUMES’, old twisted gates are great for the vines, and sundry candleholders create ambiance.

Whether as extra room for a Halloween party or a haunted conservatory for your trick-or-treaters, your greenhouse will look phantabulous.

Happy All Hallows Eve!

By Dea Schofield

A Festival of Autumn Tasks

Posted September 2nd, 2015 by Nicole Mihalos and filed in Dea Digs, Gardening
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In days of old, Autumn was a time of hard harvesting work, which was then rewarded with hard play in the form of fests. Today, if you have a garden, that work lives on in the tasks best done during this gorgeous time of year. Here are just a few suggestions for the temperate garden—bearing in mind that you can have your own ‘Herbst Fest’ afterwards!

Plant bulbs!

PicMonkey_3              Spanish Bluebell                                          Tulip                                                       Fritillaria

Everything from the common Crocus, Tulipa,  and Narcissus, to the more exotic Nerine, Lycoris, and Fritillaria (also known respectively as crocus, tulip, daffodil, spider lily bare naked lady, and fritillary/crown imperial) should be planted now. The vast majority of bulbs will benefit from amending your soil a little so that it’s got nice organic material, is well-draining, and not too acidic. Adding compost and lime, or bone meal will do the trick, especially in the mid-Atlantic region or anywhere with acidic, compacted clay which will eventually cause a decrease in your bulb population.

One notable exception is Hyacinthoides hispanica, (Spanish bluebell)—it’ll take over your beds beautifully but invasively if you let it! A trick for knowing how deep to plant a bulb, is measure 3-5 bulb-depths down. It’s also a good time to pot-up bulbs for your indoor winter displays!


Clean-up and feed winter-flowering shrubs and perennials

Three truly amazing winter-bloomers are Witchhazel (Hamemelis), Camellia (Camellia), and Helleborus (Hellebore or Lenten rose). Each of these has multiple species and cultivars that bloom over the colder months and keep their blossoms for very long periods.

PicMonkey_2Final                                      Camellia                                                                         Witchhazel

I recommend cleaning out dead or dying leaves before giving them a good slow-release ‘feast’. And a note about fertilizers: if you already have acidic soil, do not use a fertilizer for acid-loving plants! There is a limit to how acidic the soil should be.

Also, regarding Camellias—sorry to those of you who live north of zones 6/7. You can always have Tanglewood build a cool Camellia greenhouse! They do well in containers and can be wheeled around once they get large. There are varieties enough that you can have stunning flowers for seven months out of the year. You could even grow your own tea. I have met the Camellia-crazed and they are that way for good reason!


Lift/move/separate/clean-up perennials—especially Peonies

As perennials go dormant, they couldn’t care less about moving to a new home or ‘slimming down’. Autumn is the best time for this, and the safest time to do so for tired peonies. They’ll thank you for it!

PicMonkey_1Peonies                                                                                      Peonies

Other perennials can be cleaned up at your leisure, but I like to let most things go nearly completely dormant before pulling the leaves, stalks, and stems. I know this might be hard for the neatnicks, but you’ll find the task much easier and quicker because things just come right up or out with a gentle tug. The debris comes out much more cleanly too, making a second, later sweep unnecessary, as well as no Spring clean-up needed! The yellows, golds, and oranges the leaves turn as they die make up for any messiness some might perceive and reflect nicely the changing colors of the tree canopy!After all that hard work, perhaps you can fête yourself in your Tanglewood greenhouse or conservatory with Neuer wein (Federweisser or ‘new wine’), some Zwieblekuchen (onion pie), and pumpkin soup while looking out over your lovely handiwork!


Happy Autumn!

Dea Schofield 


An Alluring Anthurium

Posted July 31st, 2015 by Nicole Mihalos and filed in Conservatory Projects, Dea Digs, Gardening
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In its native habitat, Anthurium scherzerianum, or Flamingo Flower, grows happily in the high rainforests of Costa Rica. But you won’t find its aristocratic child, ‘Rothschildianum’ there. This manageable, beautiful variety can, however, grow happily in your conservatory if you give it the easy care it needs. And don’t worry, it only needs a moment or two a day. The fascinating, long-lasting flowers—heart-shaped, white and red-mottled spathe with corkscrew spadix—are well-worth it, while its wide, lance-like leaves will remain attractively architectural.


‘Rothschildianum’, like most other anthuriums, is generally an epiphyte, meaning it uses its roots to cling to trees and rocks, sucking moisture and nutrients from the air and any debris which falls on them. It thrives best in orchid bark and other loose, organic mixes. Pumice, lava rock, or large perlite pieces are important added-ingredients for holding moisture. The plant can also be trained to cling to a large piece of bark or wood, or even lava rock. A display can be very creative and employ all sorts of décor styles.

While it loves a warm, temperate environment, the important secret to its happiness is humidity. A conservatory, unlike a tropical greenhouse, isn’t kept at 85% humidity, so you have to create a microenvironment. This is best achieved by placing the plant on a gravel-filled tray (at least 2” wider than the pot, rock, or wood) kept topped-up with water. It also prefers bright, filtered light—not direct sunlight. It can actually get sun-burned!

PicMonkey - AnthuriumscherzerianumRothschildian

A daily misting (twice in summer) with a once-a-week light feeding will be especially appreciated. I recommend distilled, rain, or soft water (low/neutral pH) in the mister and feed water, as chlorine and alkaline water can cause crisping of leaf edges. The thing to remember is never let the roots stay wet. Just moist is great, but the plant quickly rots from being too moist. Conversely, if you feel your environment is just too dry, you can always try a ‘Wardian case’, or miniature greenhouse. Attractive, tabletop greenhouses can be found easily now.

With success will come the eventual ‘up-growing’ of your ‘Rothschildianum’. You can then wrap the stem/ arial roots in moist moss to encourage growth, then cut the plant at the base and repot or reattach. Then you can enjoy your elegant piece of the cloud forest for years to come!

By Dea Schofield